During Jimmy Carter's 1975 presidential campaign, he was often referred to as "the peanut farmer from Georgia." But biographies of the candidate often neglected to mention that, before his successful farming and feed supply business and political career, Carter had been a Navy submarine officer. His seven-year naval career ended only when James Earl Carter Sr. died and his son chose to save the family farm.
James Earl Carter Jr. was born Oct. 1, 1924, in Plains, Ga. Our first president to be born in a hospital, he was raised on peanut prices, local politics, and his family's strong Baptist faith. Accepting a nomination to the U.S. Naval Academy, he graduated in a wartime three years with the Class of 1946. That June, he married Rosalynn Smith, and the young couple embarked on a series of military assignments that included Ensign Carter's duty on the battleships Wyoming and Mississippi.
After the Officer's Course at the New London, Conn.-based U.S. Navy Submarine School, Carter was assigned to the sub Pomfret SS-391 and soon was promoted to lieutenant, junior grade. After doing graduate work in physics at Union College, he served as executive officer aboard the submarine K-1 (SSK 1), the first postwar submarine built, and was promoted to lieutenant. But in 1952, Carter was detached from the K-1 to participate, under then-Capt. Hyman Rickover, on the design and development of nuclear propulsion plants for naval vessels. In October 1953, Carter was training the crew of the submarine Seawolf in use of these plants when his father died. At his own request, Lt. James Earl Carter Jr. was honorably discharged after seven years, four months, and eight days of active duty. He remained on reserve duty until 1961.
After a meteoric political rise — and a 1977-81 presidency that included the Camp David Peace Accords — Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter returned to Plains and opened The Carter Center, a nonpartisan, nonprofit center for public policy issues. Carter has published 11 books since 1986 and has served on the board and as a volunteer for Habitat for Humanity. His endeavors in retirement, as during his active political life, are to make government "competent and compassionate."